It’s almost too much. When you stop and think about it, winning 16 games in two months against four different teams is an extremely difficult task and the two clubs remaining in the hunt for the Stanley Cup have certainly been beaten to a pulp — and handed out a few beatings of their own — en route to hockey’s most important and glorious prize.
On Wednesday night, the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers will face the Western Conference champion Los Angeles Kings in a battle for the hockey heart of America. This is America’s series: The Big Apple vs. Tinseltown. Right Coast vs. Left Coast. It’s the two biggest media markets in America going skate-to-stick in a championship series that is truly international in scope.
From the great Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to the Slovenian scoring machine Anze Kopitar to Canadian gold medalists Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty to the little Norwegian hell-raiser Mats Zuccarello to the Slovakian sniper Marian Gaborik and all the way down the ice to the American puck-stopper Jonathan Quick, this is probably be the best seven-game international hockey tournament of the year.
For those keeping score here in the Great White North, the Kings have 14 Canadians while the Rangers have 13. So, I suppose the Kings are Canada’s team. Regardless of the team you cheer for, this should be a great event.
Although one thing just sticks out like a sore thumb. Or in this case, a sore shoulder. Pick a random game in the Eastern semifinal and you’ll read that Montreal might have outhit New York, 23-18. Pick a random game in the Western final and Los Angeles outhit Chicago 51-40. Although both teams in this final, have great goaltending, solid defenses and guys who can score, the L.A. kings just appear to be more aggressive. At least, the numbers would bear that out.
That means one of two things, of course. Either the Kings are going to bang the Rangers out of the rink and wear them down in five or six games or the Kings have been worn down by a much tougher, more physical semifinal and don’t have anything left in the tank.
This season, the two teams played each other twice. On Oct. 7, the Rangers went into Los Angeles and beat the Kings 3-1. On Nov. 17, the Kings went into New York and beat the Rangers 1-0 (Ben Scrivens, who doesn’t play in L.A. anymore, got the shutout). It’s been so long since they’ve seen each other that it’s hardly a factor. This is a series between two teams that haven’t crossed paths in six months.
In terms of experience — and that should matter to some degree — the Kings have 14 players remaining from the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2012, including Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick. The Rangers, meanwhile, have only two players — former Tampa Bay Lightning champions Brad Richards, 34, and Martin St. Louis, 38 — who have even appeared in a final. Of course, consider this: When the Lightning won in 2004 and the Kings won in 2012, none of those players had much Stanley Cup experience.
Interestingly, both teams made big moves at the trade deadline and now it appears as if those moves have paid dividends. The Rangers got St. Louis from Tampa and he is now their leading scorer (tied) through three rounds. The Kings made a deal with Columbus to get Gaborik and he’s now L.A.’s leading goal-scorer in the post-season with 12. He also scored the tying goal in Game 7 against Chicago. Many of his 12 goals have been among the most important goals of the post-season. Both deadline deals were monsters for the respective teams.
For the next two weeks, two tremendous hockey teams will go head-to-head in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final. The Rangers were quite dominant in the East while the Kings became the first team in NHL history to play 21 games in the first three rounds in order to reach the final. They were also the first team to win three Game 7s on the road.
Home ice will have no bearing on this final. NHL rinks are all 200 feet by 85 feet and players at this level don’t even notice the fans (except for maybe Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford and he’s home watching). Heck, with NHL travel as it is today, these players often forget the city in which they’re playing. Even if it’s New York or L.A.
The whole deal starts on Wednesday night. Can’t wait.
Kings to win in six games
2014 Stanley Cup Final Schedule
1. Wednesday, June 4: Rangers at Kings — NBC/CBC, 7 p.m. CDT
2. Saturday, June 7: Rangers at Kings — NBC/CBC, 6 p.m. CDT
3. Monday, June 9: Kings at Rangers — NBCSN/CBC, 7 p.m. CDT
4. Wednesday, June 11: Kings at Rangers — NBCSN/CBC, 7 p.m. CDT
5* Friday, June 13: Rangers at Kings — NBC/CBC, 7 p.m. CDT
6* Monday, June 16: Kings at Rangers — NBC/CBC, 7 p.m. CDT
7* Wednesday, June 18: Rangers at Kings — NBC/CBC, 7 p.m. CDT